Three questions provide “guidelines” for personal testimonies: What brought me here? What keeps me here? What religious or spiritual issue am I wrestling with now? I realized I’ve been on a journey, starting with little awareness of Unitarianism to a degree of understanding, a journey with no insight regarding its future course. Shawn provided a quotation from Kierkegaard: “We live our lives forward, but we understand them backwards.” That seems to sum it up.

I grew up in a non-practising Jewish home where my father who held and voiced the family opinions insisted that all religions were “bunk.” Yet we were constantly reminded of being Jewish although observing no Jewish holidays or practices. We celebrated Christmas with presents and a huge dinner, avoiding anything that people would see, like a Christmas tree or other seasonal decorations, and we stayed home from school on Jewish holidays because of what people would think. I found the hypocrisy distasteful.

So how did I get here? It started in Madison, Wisconsin, while attending university. I lived in an interracial residence which, I learned, had been largely sponsored by local Unitarians, a daring undertaking with the Civil Rights movement over a decade away and in many communities two YMCAs, one for whites and one for blacks, as was true of some local churches. All this was new to me, coming from London, Ontario which was almost totally homogeneously white.

I attended Madison’s Unitarian congregation at a very exciting time. Ken Patton’s previous dynamic ministry had left a lingering glow. And the congregation was building a new church, designed by famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright whose grandfather was a founder. He believed in using local materials. This meant limestone, available north of Madison. The church organized two work parties: one loaded limestone on trucks at the quarry, the other unloaded at the church site. I chose the quarry and during a glorious autumn season spent Saturdays there. Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography became almost a text book for the congregation, used in RE and other programs. Heady days!

Meanwhile increased interest in religion led to exploring Protestant student centres. I even looked at the Quakers, but abandoned them because they seemed very pure-hearted; I felt I wasn’t “good enough.”

In Toronto in the early ‘50’s, I at first felt isolated and decided to “try” being Jewish. While scouting Jewish circles, I was told by a prominent rabbi that “we have nothing here for single women at all.” That closed that door. By chance I encountered a former Madison Unitarian who suggested I come here. I did, I immediately felt at home, I stayed.

My reasons: feeling accepted, and free to explore and think for myself. It was difficult explaining Unitarianism to others. Part of that was the times. Unitarians here tended to define themselves negatively, unlike traditional religionists. Avoiding the “trappings of traditional religion” seemed almost a mantra. Back then, I didn’t understand Unitarianism. I tended to describe myself as Unitarian by temperament rather than conviction.

The big gift I received here involved personal change, from being extremely shy, finding it difficult to express any opinion (many here now would never believe that!) to becoming more outgoing. Developing organizational skills led to founding Carrousel Club, actually joining the church in 1962 in order to be president, hardly a noble motive. But temperament trumped conviction then. Over time I’ve filled various roles here and my sense of this as my community and my “social lab” grew and strengthened.

But a strange thing happened on the way from then until now.

It took time to understand Unitarianism as a liberal religion. Recently, I have reflected on major influences that culminated in a set of liberal values. They included my early introduction to racism and civil rights issues, and employment in human rights; ongoing participation in the adult education world where “liberal” attitudes and projects abounded; graduate study in sociology; opportunities to learn about aboriginal peoples. Dominant throughout has been continuing influence of the Unitarian environment which nurtured me, especially with its emphasis on respect for others and their views. I am deeply grateful. And somewhere on this journey I accepted humanism as my “brand” of Unitarianism. Finally, I felt Unitarian by conviction.

The three questions? I came seeking an accepting home. I stayed because I found it here. Any doubts absolutely vanished when I was hospitalized last summer. I was totally overwhelmed by the constant flow of visitors, cards, gifts, phone calls and tangible help that poured forth from members of this congregation both then and afterwards. The church as my community became incredibly vivid.

The third question, “What religious or spiritual issue am I wrestling with now” is still evasive, overtaken by increasing comfort with my humanist outlook and less need to wrestle.

There is a lovely poem which a former minister used to quote, translated from Greek, and called Ithaca or Journey to Ithaca, as the destination of a long journey through life, enjoying delights and ignoring threats, recognizing that in the end, Ithaca might disappoint. The message: the journey trumps the destination; travelling outweighs arriving. Another quotation, from lyrics by Sondheim: “If you know where you’re going, you’ve (already) gone.”